We knew our Atlantic coast exploration would be intriguing when we passed this handpainted sign at at a second-hand shop near a tiny Georgia town: DEAD PEOPLES THINGS FOR SALE.
In Brunswick, there's a new bridge under construction - an airy, feathery suspension bridge rising high in the sky like the highway to heaven. It wasn't open yet, so all we could do is admire the silhouette and look forward to crossing it in the future.
Before we crossed the river, though, we headed shoreward towards Jekyll Island. The road was lined with a belt of wildflowers in pink, white, and purple. We stopped at the welcome center, and discovered that this island is sort of a state park. That is, it's a state park in name, but there's not enough state money to operate it, so they charge a $3 per day fee (the annual decal is $35). We noted that there were lots of vacation rentals suitable for Jekyll Island beach families, starting at $325 a week for two-bedroom houses.
Jekyll island - like all the islands on the Atlantic coast - was encounted (by explorers from several European countries) early on, and was the scene of much brandishing of swords and bluffing as the party in possession sought to prevent the party on the boats from making landfall. A loyalist French naval captain, Le Sieur Christophe Anne Poulain du Bignon, owned the island for a while; it was sold by his grandson to the New Yorkers who formed the original Jekyll Island Club.
At a certain time, Jekyll Island had been the vacation home of millionaires: Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Morgans, etc. But, in the words of the lady at the welcome center, they all went to Europe, leaving their large wooden "cottages" still standing. Now there's a new version of the Jekyll Island Club located in the historic area. We drove around and enjoyed looking at the vacation homes.
We especially enjoyed this little historical vignette (quoting from the historical marker): This chimney is all that remains of the cottage of Bayard Brown, original member of the Jekyll Island club. In his gay, young days, he built this cottage at Jekyll, overlooking the marshes. He erected a bridge to reach the isolated house, built stables for his horses, and furnished the cottage elegantly for his bride-to-be. But the wedding never came off. The house deteriorated and was torn down. This eccentric millionaire was known as "The Hermit of the Essex Coast" in England. At the age of 37, he became an exile Jekyll Island home from America, sailing on his yacht Valfreyia. "Unrequited love" is said to be the cause of his renouncing his native land to become a legendary port-bound yachtsman for 36 years. On the Essex Coast, his yacht engines were always in readiness for a sea voyage. His crew of 18 waited in vain for the order to put to sea. One thing was certain -- Mr. Brown had plenty of money - a million dollars a year, according to one account. Sometimes he would toss gold sovereigns from his yacht for anyone to pick up. Anyone who mentioned "America" in his presence was dismissed. He died in 1926 requesting that his body be returned to America on the Valfreyia.
Outside of the Club area, now the Historic District, Jekyll Island seems mostly middle class and family oriented, with lovely homes. There seems to have been some careful zoning control, because all the buildings are well landscaped, not crowded together, there are no billboards or intrusive signs. There were lots of bicycles and pedestrians, and the traffic moved carefully.
The weather was gorgeous, if a little chilly, but not cold enough to stop some fisherwomen who were dangling two or three lines each into the murky water of the bay. We saw a couple of baby rays one of them had caught, and they said they would get "most everything - flounder, trout, crabs." The rays would be cut up for bait; otherwise they used shrimp as bait. It was the kind of fishing where you didn't hold the pole. Nothing big would be coming into these waters, and there'd be time to pick up and reel in if the end of the pole started to wiggle.
If you want a quiet seaside vacation, we'd recommend Jekyll Island in the spring. April and May are probably the best months. There is a campground here, with RVs so well surrounded by trees that they're almost hidden from view from the road. And the hotels are not pretentious - Comfort Inn, Days Inn.